Ask the members of Reynolds why they are motivated to help others through various charitable ventures and you can’t help but be struck by the consistency of the responses:

“I am reaching out and extending myself more than I ever thought I could.”
“I want to make a difference in other peoples’ lives.”
“I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile with my own life.”

Whether it is providing housing for families in need, delivering meals on wheels to the elderly, promoting child literacy, or helping kids become involved with the arts, these Reynolds members are stepping up with their time and talents to improve the lives of those around them.

Here are five stories; doubtless there are dozens more.

 

Riezl Baker
“A Compassionate Healing Presence In The Community”

In the summer of 2013, health care in rural Greene County, Georgia took an unprecedented turn for the better with the opening of the $48 million, critical-access St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital. And it didn’t take long for the new facility to attract the attention of the medical world when it was awarded Georgia Small Hospital of the Year and one of the Top 20 Critical-Access Hospitals in the U.S.

Many Reynolds residents threw their support—physical and financial—behind the creation of the hospital. One of the most exuberant was Riezl Baker, who moved to the Lake Oconee area 20 years ago from Atlanta where she worked with Hyatt Corporation.

“I have been a realtor at Reynolds for 17 years,” says Baker, “and I’ve had the perfect vantage point to watch this community evolve, including a major milestone: the opening of The Ritz-Carlton hotel.

It has been very exciting. The one critical piece we were missing was a new hospital, and that became a reality in 2013.”

Baker and fellow St. Mary’s Foundation members played a big part in shaping the new hospital. “In 2013, the Foundation was tasked with raising $8 million in additional capital to furnish equipment for the operating rooms, including the medical specialty of nuclear medicine. In three years we reached our $8 million goal— well ahead of projection,” she proudly proclaims.

Baker comes by her philanthropic priorities naturally. “My grandfather was the longest serving Mayor of Manila in the Philippines. During his tenure, he and our family contributed financially and through land holdings to the improvement of educational opportunities for the people. As a family, we believed you should share your talents and use them to enrich the quality of life of others where you live and work. I still firmly believe that,” she says.

Riezl Baker (Gallery Photo #1) 

Dave Thillen
“If it involves education, it is the right thing to do”

By his own admission, Dave Thillen has achieved success through structure, objectives, and planning.

“I may have taken it to an extreme as I became rather intense to achieve my goals. But, I grew up in poverty without a father and my mother only had an eighth-grade education. I knew early on that I needed structure and discipline in my life, and the only way I could improve my lot was through a good education and determination.”

He earned a master’s degree in mathematics and enjoyed a distinguished 30-year career with IBM, after having served in the military as a coach and gymnastics instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“Now, my main goal is to be happy, and I realize I am the happiest when I use my time to help others have a life that becomes more than they had expected.”

For Thillen, that means working with a number of local charities including Greene County Habitat for Humanity, the Pete Nance Boys & Girls Club, ATLAS, and junior leadership.

“At Habitat for Humanity, we build four new homes every year from scratch that sell for approximately $60,000 and are worth much more than that. We get free labor, reduced prices on supplies and materials, and even some donated appliances,” Thillen explains.

And if there is a student in the household, he makes sure there’s also a computer in the home, “to get them on the path to school, college, or the military. Everyone needs a plan for the future.”

Thillen also assists with educational programs, computers, and software at ATLAS Ministry in Greensboro, a non-denominational Christian organization that works with families committed to setting their lives on a healthy and productive new path. Plus, he is a technical consultant for the Pete Nance Boys & Girls Club in Greene County, which provides after-school education and recreation for elementary, middle school, and high school students.

“When I help a young person become a better student or understand where his life is headed, I feel like I’m also doing something worthwhile with my own life.”

Dave Thillen (Gallery Photo #2)

 

Micki Tanner 
“Changing Lives One Meal At A Time”

Michelle Tanner-Baird—Micki Tanner, for short—takes being a Rotarian very seriously. She has been one for 22 years, first in Chicago, where Rotary started in 1905, then in Tennessee, and finally in Greene and Putnam Counties where she settled, made her home, and became a Reynolds real estate executive over 16 years ago.

One of Tanner’s favorite local initiatives is the Meals on Wheels effort. Embarking on a 60-mile journey, she delivers food to about 14 seniors who otherwise would not get hot meals. “This is a vital program which helps to ensure that no senior is left behind. We’re fighting hunger, isolation, and poverty and we want these seniors to know that they will not be forgotten,” Tanner stresses.

Tanner also goes global with her Rotarian efforts, particularly lauding the club’s tie-in with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a global effort to eradicate polio through vaccinating millions of children in third-world countries. “Today only two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan—still report cases of polio, and the number there has dwindled to 100 cases per year,” she says.

She recently participated in a Rotary mission to Tanzania in East Africa called Alliance for Smiles, a non-profit effort started in San Francisco in 2004 to provide free comprehensive treatment for cleft lip and palate anomalies in under-served areas of the world.

“We were on a two-week mission that included volunteers and two plastic surgeons from Colorado and Virginia who contributed their services free of charge. They were able to do four surgical procedures a day and the results were overwhelming. You could see these children transformed literally overnight. Before they were shunned by their society; now they are happy and smiling and ready to enter life with renewed confidence and enthusiasm.”

The Alliance’s motto is: Changing Lives One Smile At A Time. “I can tell you, they changed ours, too,” she says.

Micki Tanner (Gallery Photo #3) 

 

Reid Conklin
“Assuring That Nobody Goes To Bed Hungry”

As president of the local Rotary Club of Greene & Putnam Counties, Reynolds resident Reid Conklin helps lead the organization’s Second Harvest Food Distribution project, a community-wide effort involving hundreds of volunteers who ensure that people in the local area do not go hungry.

“We have so many volunteers, many of whom are not even Rotarians, who give their time to help people who are having a problem getting basic food items to live. For most of these families, Second Harvest has become a necessity, as many find that even food stamps don’t cut it much of the time,” he stresses.

“We pick up excess food from Publix Market and The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee three times a week for places such as the Greene County Food Pantry, the Penfield Christian Home, a drug and alcohol rehab center for men and women, and local churches who distribute to members in need.”

“Then we distribute 15,000 to 17,000 pounds of food from the local food bank each month to about 250 families, most of whom are people over 60 years or under 18 years of age.

“And we give weekend ready-to-eat meals to 66 local elementary school children who would otherwise not have a nutritious meal during the weekend. It seems unbelievable in this day and age that people in this country still cannot get the basic nutrition they need to survive, but, sadly, it is true.”

A banker and retired executive with Charles Schwab in Atlanta, Conklin and wife Sharon have lived at Reynolds for the past 10 years. “This is a great place,” he says. “It is a caring and giving community full of Type A personalities who want to stay involved and help other people as much as they possibly can.”

Conklin’s past makes him perfectly suited to packing and distributing food. “My first job was as a bag boy at the commissary at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, so I know a little about putting food in its proper place.”

Reid Conklin (Gallery Photo #5) 

 

Douglass Weeks 
“Over Seven Years, Raised More Than One Million Dollars”

One thousand people showed up at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee for this year’s Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival, and they weren’t all people from around the corner.

What started as a small community event and fundraiser for locals has become a destination festival known throughout the Southeast. “This was by far our biggest and most successful event in our seven-year history,” says Douglass Weeks, co-chair of the festival and Reynolds resident. “About 35% of our attendees were what you would call local, but 65%—twice as many—came from more than 50 miles away. That fact alone is very exciting and tells us we are doing something right.”

According to Weeks, charitable proceeds from this year’s event topped $200,000, bringing the seven-year total to more than $1 million. Proceeds help support academic programs at Gatewood School, a Christian-based college prep school in Eatonton; OPAS Educational  and Outreach Program, which provides opportunities for local children to become involved in and exposed to the arts; Eatonton- Putnam Arts Foundation (EPAF), which provides educational and performing arts programming after school and during the summer; and Young Life, an interdenominational Christian outreach ministry to help adolescents grow in their faith.

“This year, we added the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy as another recipient, which provides free books to preschool children for reading and learning success. Imagine a child receiving a book in the mail every month at absolutely no cost (ever) until the age of five.”

“The spirit of giving in this area to benefit children is phenomenal,” Weeks adds. “Our festival plays a big part every year, but we couldn’t begin to do this without the help of our sponsors. This becomes a great opportunity for people to see the community, visit the lake, and see Reynolds Lake Oconee.”

Douglass Weeks (Gallery Photo #4) 

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